Australia’s renewable energy transition has prompted the construction of dozens of large-scale solar farms. Prosperity helps reduce Australia’s dependence on fossil fuels, but it requires converting large tracts of land to host solar infrastructure.
Solar farms are mostly built in rural areas. This has been raised concerns about a potential decline in both agricultural production – where arable land is used to produce solar energy – and wildlife habitat.
But there are ways to expand solar infrastructure so that both nature and people win out. We’ve already done that I saw this in what is called “FarmingThe ground below and around the solar panels is used Crop cultivation Cattle are grazing. but what about”preservative cellsCombing conservation and solar energy?
My new research is examining whether solar farms could also be used to help preserve native species. I’ve found that solar panels can provide valuable habitat for wildlife – potentially benefiting the land and farmers.
A new place to call home
Our wild landscapes are shrinking and protected areas, like national parks, just cover it about 9% Australia.
Many agricultural landscapes have been cleared of trees to provide pasture for livestock. This means that wildlife that depend on trees has lost huge swaths of habitat.
So we must find new places for wildlife to hunt, rest, shelter and breed.
My work examines how solar parks on farmland can double as habitats for wildlife. They include surveys and trappings to determine which plants and animals occupy solar farms, how long they take to repopulate, and how we can promote more biodiversity.
My New Paper Coins A new term for this dual use of the earth: clear cells. Highlight research from abroad on how solar parks can bring conservation benefits, and describe the research that is still needed.
Solar panels add three-dimensional structure and complexity to the environment. They can provide shelter for animals from predators and the elements, much like artificial reefs in lakes and oceans. They can also function as perches or telescopic structures.
Solar infrastructure also creates a mosaic of sunspots and shade – and so on supply Many “micro-habitats” for plants and animals.
Search From Europe large solar farms have shown that they can enhance the diversity and abundance of plants, herbs, butterflies, bees and birds.
What’s more, vegetation is between the rows of solar panels It can also provide Traveling corridors, nesting sites, and a wildlife refuge.
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Management is the key
Research indicates Several management strategies that can increase the benefits of solar farms for wildlife.
Land managers should provide a diverse mix of flowering plant species to encourage pollinators. And the grass between the solar panels should not be mowed too much or too often. Pollinators prefer tall plants where they can feed — though the vegetation shouldn’t be so tall as to overshadow the solar panels.
The use of herbicides and other chemicals should be avoided as much as possible. And solar farms must be linked to other plant areas, using features such as fencing and wildflower strips, so that wildlife can move between the solar farm and other habitats.
Landowners who combine solar farms with wildlife habitats may reap many benefits.
They can get financial returns by earning environmental credits through schemes that reward carbon sequestration and biodiversity improvement.
They can also improve the health of their lands by, for example, increasing pollination or providing a habitat for predators such as birds of prey perches or nest boxes – which in turn can help control pests.
However, there is still a lot of work to do to understand these opportunities.
I look forward
The benefit of renewable energy in reducing carbon emissions is well known. But more work is needed to understand how solar farms can benefit wildlife.
Research is also lacking on how to locate, configure and manage solar farms to improve biodiversity. Collaboration between industry, land managers, and researchers is needed so that clean energy production and conservation can go hand in hand.
Australia needs more solar and wind power, but where are the best locations? We’ve hired them all